Led Zeppelin Wins 'Stairway to Heaven' Copyright Infringement Case: Reports
Led Zeppelin is in the clear once again.
On Monday, an 11-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of appeals affirmed that the British rock band did not infringe the copyright of Spirit’s song “Taurus” for the opening guitar riff of the fan favorite track “Stairway to Heaven” in a 9-2 decision, multiple outlets report.
“Taurus” was written by guitarist Randy Wolfe, known as Randy California, in 1968 — three years before “Stairway to Heaven” was created. Wolfe died in 1997. Michael Skidmore, a trustee for the late musician’s estate, first accused Led Zeppelin of ripping off the song in 2014.
Attorney Francis Malofiy, who represented the Wolfe estate, claimed that Led Zeppelin’s surviving members Jimmy Page, 76, and Robert Plant, 71, had come in contact with the song “Taurus” when the two bands performed at the same venue decades ago and that it became the foundation for the 14-second acoustic guitar intro to “Stairway to Heaven.”
Malofiy said his clients were seeking one-third credit for the hit song and asked the jury to assign damages between $3.4 million and $13.5 million.
In June 2016 — after a week-long trial and two years of legal posturing – Led Zeppelin won the initial copyright lawsuit claiming that they had plagiarized the music for their beloved classic. A federal jury declined to award any of the requested damages.
At the time, an eight-member Los Angeles jury reached a unanimous decision that guitarist Page and singer Plant did not lift the song’s iconic arpeggiated intro from the California band Spirit’s 1968 instrumental, “Taurus.” Led Zeppelin’s additional surviving member John Paul Jones, 74, spent 15 minutes on the witness stand, although he was not officially included as part of the lawsuit, CBS Los Angeles reports.
Following the decision, Page and Plant — who both testified in court — issued a joint statement: “We are grateful for the jury’s conscientious service and pleased that it has ruled in our favor, putting to rest questions about the origins of ‘Stairway to Heaven’ and confirming what we have known for 45 years. We appreciate our fans’ support, and look forward to putting this legal matter behind us.”
In 2016, jurors did not hear the portion of “Taurus” which sounds similar to the beginning of “Stairway to Heaven” in court. Instead, jurors listened to guitar and piano renditions by musicians on both sides of the case. A three-judge 9th Circuit panel dismissed the verdict on the grounds that the trial judge gave faulty jury instructions, which led to Monday’s rehearing before a full panel of judges in San Francisco, the BBC reports.
CBS Los Angeles reports that the new 72-page ruling states: “It is undisputed that Spirit and Led Zeppelin crossed paths in the late 1960s and the early 1970s. The bands performed at the same venue at least three times between 1968 and 1970. Led Zeppelin also performed a cover of a Spirit song, ‘Fresh Garbage.’ But there is no direct evidence that the two bands toured together, or that Led Zeppelin band members heard Spirit perform ‘Taurus.'”